2017-03-16 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

We celebrate all things Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. To paraphrase a familiar song: “When Irish dogs are smiling, the whole world smiles with them.” The Emerald Isle has provided the world with a smorgasbord of delightful breeds. Perhaps it’s more politically correct to say “an Irish stew of delightful breeds.”

Irish Setter; Irish Wolfhound; Irish Terrier; Irish Water Spaniel; Irish Red and White Setter. Five of the 202 dog breeds and varieties currently recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club) have a “made in Ireland” stamp within their names. There are four distinct Terrier breeds from Ireland; the AKC term “Irish Terrier” describes the wiry one with flaming red hair from Eire. The other three Terriers developed in Ireland are the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier and Glen of Imaal Terrier.

The eight breeds above originate from the old sod. The AKC, founded in 1884, maintains the largest purebred dog registry in the world. Breed clubs follow a timetable and strict criteria to gain full AKC recognition. It takes years, even for established breeds, many already competing in Europe and elsewhere, within international registries. So when introduced as “new” breeds, each is far from being new. The year the breed is AKC recognized is the first year that breed can participate in US shows like Westminster.

“Mick" a Kerry Blue Terrier won the dog world "Triple Crown" “Mick" a Kerry Blue Terrier won the dog world "Triple Crown" Below is background on the three Irish breeds without the word “Irish” in their names:

*Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is the traditional Irish farm dog. For years they were taken for granted, being part of the daily work of the Irish farmer. They were not owned by wealthy dog enthusiasts but were seen as the poor people’s dog.

Under the penal law of 18th century Ireland, tenant farmers were prohibited from owning a dog worth more than five dollars, making it likely that these anonymous Terriers were the choice of the poor Catholic tenants. The English landholders had the more expensive Wolfhounds.

Wheatens are believed to be an ancestor of the Kerry Blue (at right). In 1962, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Soft- Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America was founded when fanciers met in Brooklyn and agreed to preserve and protect the Wheaten in the US. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier was officially recognized by the AKC in 1973.

*Kerry Blue Terrier- Some say the Kerry Blue came from Tipperary; others feel this breed emerged in the 1700s in County Kerry. A romantic legend recounts after a Russian ship wrecked in Kerry’s Tralee Bay, an exotic blue-coated dog frantically paddled its way ashore.

Still others insist peasants developed the Kerry Blue for the purpose of poaching since only the nobility was permitted to hunt with Irish Wolfhounds. There is speculation Wolfhounds were crossed with Wheatens, and possibly Bedlingtons, to produce the smaller, scrappy breed. At the turn of the 20th century, the breed became closely associated with Irish nationalism with the nationalist leader Michael Collins owning a famous Kerry Blue named “Convict 224.” Collins attempted to have the Kerry Blue adopted as the national dog of Ireland.

The first Kerry Blues showed up in America at Westminster in 1922 and were exhibited in the Miscellaneous Class until 1924 when the breed was recognized by the AKC. During Westminster 1926 a group of fanciers met at the Waldorf Astoria to organize the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of America.

“Mick,” a Kerry Blue Terrier, earned the dog world’s Triple Crown. He won Crufts in England in 2000; the AKC/Eukanuba National in Florida in 2002 and Westminster at the Garden in 2003.

*Glen of Imaal Terriers are probably the least familiar Irish-descent Terriers because they are so rare. The breed nearly became extinct in the 1920s. Glens resemble a 35-pound scruffy Terrier on a Basset chassis. This Terrier, originating in the Glen of Imaal in the remote County Wicklow, is sometimes called the Wicklow Terrier, or just Glen Terrier.

The breed came to be during the reign of Elizabeth I, who hired French and Hessian mercenaries to put down civil unrest in Ireland. After the conflict, many of these soldiers settled in Wicklow. They brought with them their stubby-legged Hounds, which they bred with the local Terrier stock, eventually resulting in a distinctive breed found only in the Glen of Imaal.

The Glen of Imaal was developed as a working dog for herding and for eradicating vermin such as fox, badger, and otter. When hunting, Glens are strong, and silently dig out their quarry, unlike most yippy Terrier breeds.

According to Irish lore, Glen of Imaal Terriers were also used as turnspit dogs to turn meat over fires for cooking evenly. Documentation is scarce, and engravings of turnspit dogs from the 19th century do not look much like the modern Glen. A 1970s Irish Kennel Club drawing depicts a cumbersome wheel connected to a pulley and a rotisserie. The dog paddled away inside of the wheel mounted on the wall or strung from the ceiling. The device could never have fit in the average Irish cottage of the era. Glen owners have told me this story is hype. They feel there is little proof their breed ever worked in the kitchen turning meat turnspits.

The breed was recognized first by the Irish Kennel Club in 1934 and by the American Kennel Club in 2004. Bruce Sussman, instrumental in obtaining AKC recognition for the Glen introduced his unique Terrier to the NY press. Sussman co-wrote “Copacabana” and the American Bandstand theme song with Barry Manilow. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: The dogs and cats at the shelter would love to parade into a loving home. “Chloe” #7-72, a tuxedo kitten with an adorable smudged nose, was returned to the shelter because her owners were moving. She is the youngest there at four months. “Finnegan” #17-119, a young male Hound, is still a big puppy.

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